An investigation by a former Daily Jefferson County Union reporter is chronicled in an award-winning documentary that debuted Monday night on public television.
“Dark Money” shadows Montana investigative journalist John S. Adams as he uncovered the influence of untraceable corporate money on the electoral process.
It premiered nationally Monday and early this morning and will be rebroadcast on Wisconsin Public Television in Madison Friday, Oct. 5, at 10 p.m. on Channels 21 and 21.1; and Sunday, Oct. 7, at 10 p.m. on Channel 21.2.
For a limited time, the film also is streaming at https://www.pbs.org/pov/darkmoney/video/darkmoney/.
A Door County native, Adams worked at the Daily Union in Fort Atkinson from Feb. 11, 2003, to Nov. 18, 2004. He left to go to the Missoula Independent, and eventually became the Capitol Bureau reporter for the Great Falls Tribune and the Montana correspondent for USA Today. He later founded the Montana Free Press.
Director and producer Kimberly Reed met Adams when she returned to her native state to document the reach of corporate interests into politics and to chronicle its grassroots opposition. Profiling Adams and a crusading campaign commissioner, “Dark Money’s” story actually begins more than a century ago.
It was in 1912 that Montana prohibited corporate campaign financing after Anaconda Copper Mine magnate William A. Clark bribed his way into the United States Senate. However, everything changed with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC ruling in 2010, which classified campaign expenditures by corporations as free speech and allowed donors to remain undisclosed.
Reed said the film shows how, as a result, unlimited, anonymous “dark money” began to flood elections nationwide, and in Montana, even conservative incumbents found themselves facing coordinated smear campaigns to sway the electorate toward candidates more in line with corporate interests.
When a far-right dark money group challenged Montana’s stance, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the state in a one-page decision.
Reed said the fast-paced, 98-minute documentary shows Democrats and Republicans running for political and judicial office targeted by attack ads from deep-pocketed nonprofits with names like Citizens United, Americans For Prosperity and Mothers Against Child Predators.
No one had heard of them before and it was difficult to track the money back to who was behind them, the director noted.
Adams was a newly laid-off local reporter who founded his own dirt-digging website with help from colleagues and donations from an increasingly outraged public. The film also features attorney Gene Jarussi, who came out of retirement to work pro bono on tracing the money trail connecting Republican state Sen Art Wittich to an anti-environmental outfit titled American Tradition Partnership, and Sarah Arnold, a young Republican former staffer for ATP who agreed to testify at Wittich’s trial.
“Dark Money” premiered at the January Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Producer Award.
It also was the opening night film for the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in February and won the Best Documentary Award at the Omaha Film Festival in March.
The broadcast rights were purchased by PBS distribution to air the film as part of its docu-series.